Take one player, ideally, plucked from the youth system; allow to mature in a first team environment before adding in a few U21 caps. When sufficiently developed expose to tournament football whilst sprinkling with rumours. Finish with a coating of a new contract offer before garnishing with an old chestnut like ‘every player has his price’. Now sit back and wait as people try to steal your prize creation from under your nose.
It’s not quite a recipe for disaster, but if you’ve followed the instructions carefully enough then you should find that you’ve landed yourself a fair portion of panic, confusion and recrimination. If you’re unsure about what the finished product should look like then I would suggest that you look at the transfer of Leighton Baines from Wigan Athletic to Everton.
Throughout the summer there have been whispers and insinuations about how Latics’ best (and only) left-back wanted away, but despite a wide range of reported interest not much had happened until the last couple of weeks. In true Wigan Athletic style, it’s about as clear as mud what even happened when things started moving.
It was Sunderland that got the whole thing kick started. They originally valued Baines at about threepence ha’penny but may (or may not) have finally got their price up to the magic figure. What is more likely is that Chris Hutchings decided that the best way to get Roy Keane to shut up was to let the player tell him he wasn’t interested.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Leighton’s return journey from the preseason games in Holland included a stop off on Wearside, where Physic Keano picked up that he wasn’t that interested after all and that the lad was just like him when he went to Celtic and had already made his mind up to join the Toffees. So it was back to square one and the wait for the, allegedly, potless David Moyes to make a bid.
Of course, when the bid came, it fell short of Latics’ expectations. It didn’t even come close to Sunderland’s final offer. Ok so there may have been a player thrown in for good measure, but what use an invisible man of a right winger when you’ve just lost your only right back? Everton were clearly having a laugh with £4 million and they were quite rightly told to go away and come back with something proper.
At this stage, your intrepid reporter was still clinging onto his half baked theory that Baines didn’t actually want a move and that all this was just his agent’s way of getting the lad a better deal. His agent, Tony Finnegan, oversaw Nathan Ellington’s move to West Brom and surely neither he nor the club would want to end up down that path again.
That little theory was blown out of the water when, with his Latics team mates toiling away at Halifax, Baines was snapped in the directors’ box at Goodison as Everton took on Werder Bremen. Whatever reasons you could come up with for Baines’ appearance next to James Vaughn the simplest fact was that none of them washed. If he was staying then he’d have traveled to Yorkshire or he’d have made a statement or something. At the very least he wouldn’t have turned up at the club that every one had been touting as his latest suitors.
So from that point it was a done deal. The only question that remained was the terms. What price an established, left footed, English player, allegedly in the sights of Steve Maclaren? Given that Spurs had supposedly shelled out over £10 million on Gareth Bale then £5 million seems a bit short. Admittedly the club seemed to have wised up and have had clauses inserted into the deal (based on appearances and such), and we may eventually get something close to what Roy Keane was prepared to pay, but it would be nice if the club could, one day, sell a player without leaving the fans feeling short changed.
Losing Baines isn’t half as much a concern as what he has left behind him. Kevin Kilbane has deputized at left back over the pre-season games but, whilst he has reportedly done alright, the likes of Blackpool, Leeds and Halifax don’t have the next Christiano Ronaldo in their ranks. It would be nice to spend time pondering on our goodbye to Leighton Baines, but instead we’ll have to deal with the more pressing issue of who our next “best left back” is going to be.
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